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Retired, yes; slowing, no

By DAVE SCHEIBER
Published November 1, 2006


By DAVE SCHEIBER Times Staff Writer

Two months ago, tennis superstar Martina Navratilova walked away from the game she dominated for decades. And she did so in fitting style, with a mixed doubles victory at the U.S. Open. We caught up with Navratilova, who turned 50 two weeks ago, at the Times' Festival of Reading, where she spoke to a large audience and signed copies of her new book, Shape Your Self, in which she shares her diet and fitness secrets.

Navratilova by the numbers

167 Total singles titles, more than any player, female or male.

21 Consecutive years winning at least one tour event.

9 Record number of Wimbledon women's singles titles.

177 Doubles titles, including seven in 2003.

331 Weeks ranked No. 1 (on nine different occasions).

43 Number of wins over Chris Evert (43-37 lifetime).

61 Number of months in her "golden era" from 1981-87 when she won 71 titles, 12 of 17 Grand Slam singles titles and 432 of 446 matches.

109 Record number of consecutive doubles matches won.

$21,626,089

Career prize earnings.

1,440 Total wins (1,440-213 lifetime)

When the moment arrived at the Open, did retirement feel the way you expected it to?

"First of all, my career ended the way it was meant to finish - on a good note. As soon as the match was over, it was like, 'I'm done.' I was looking forward to it all year. Physically, I have the ability to keep playing. But I was really ready to call it a day. It wasn't relief, but just happiness that I had such a great, long run, and now I can just relax and just get on with the rest of my life."

 

So it'll be easier to promote your book?

"When I did the book tour in April, I did three days and I said, 'You've got to give me a window when I can work out.' And I was stressing about when can I get the time for training. Instead of doing 90 minutes, I was only doing 45. That's the thing about choices. I know what my goal is, but then I had to compromise. And I don't like compromises. I like to do things the right way. So it was kind of ironic: Here I'm doing a health and fitness book and I can't work out because I'm promoting it. I couldn't eat right. One day, I started at 7:30 in the morning and by 11:30, I was doing a radio interview and I couldn't finish a sentence. You have to feed your body the right way, and it's for the physical as well as the mental. And I practice what I preach. Of course, I want to look good, but most of all I want to feel good. And if you do the work, you will look good."

 

What has the response to the book been?

"It's been great. People who've read it have told me they've had great results immediately. My frustration has been getting on TV shows to promote the book - they're like, it's too positive, it's too happy, too nice. I'm not in people's face. I just respond better to positive reinforcement than negative. This is a cheerleading book."

What else are you looking forward to doing?

"Just having free time. I visited my mom for 10 days in the Czech Republic a few weeks ago. So I'm looking forward to having more quality time with my friends and family. And my dogs as well. I'm still doing a lot of crazy driving and flying around; I've been to California twice, Europe once, New York twice, since I quit. And I'm going to South Africa on Saturday. Then I go to New York again and Montreal for business, the Rainbow (Visa) card, which raises money for gay and lesbian organizations through the Rainbow Endowment."

 

If you had started your career now, would things have been different for you? Would you have been embraced by the public more quickly?

"Absolutely. It was hard, because I was very aggressive on the court. Very much of a contrast with Chris (Evert). She was the pretty girl next door who everybody loved; and I was sort of this muscular, aggressive player and outspoken person. And then I turned out to be a lesbian, which didn't help back then. Now it's not nearly as big a deal. People don't care. And that's how it should be. It shouldn't matter."

 

What tennis accomplishment makes you proudest?

"I'm happy with the body of work. But it could have been better. Between 18-25 I didn't have a coach. I was here on my own. I wish I'd have gotten started a little earlier. But I'm not complaining: it could have been better, it could have been worse. I feel very blessed and fortunate and I had a good run."